Sexual Harassment Policy and its Applicability to companies in India

As per Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (the “Sexual Harassment Act”) companies hiring women employees must have a comprehensive sexual harassment policy in place. The legislation applies to all establishments where woman are engaged either as employees or otherwise (say one who comes to the work place as a customer or intern or doing some project or survey can also raise a complaint if she is subjected to sexual harassment)

MEANING AND DEFINITION

Sexual harassment as defined in the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 includes any one or more of the following unwelcome acts or behavior (whether directly or by implication):
i. physical contact and advances;
ii. a demand or request for sexual favors;
iii. making sexually colored remarks;
iv. showing pornography; and / or
v. any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature. The above definition also includes any form of offensive behavior including gender-based harassment of a person of the same sex as the harasser. The following is a partial list of sexual harassment examples:
a. unwanted sexual advances;
b. offering employment benefits in exchange for sexual favors;
c. making or threatening reprisals after a negative response to sexual advances.
d. visual conduct that includes leering, making sexual gestures, or displaying of sexually suggestive objects or pictures, cartoons or posters;
e. verbal conduct that includes making or using derogatory comments, epithets, slurs, or jokes;
f. verbal sexual advances or propositions;
g. verbal abuse of a sexual nature, graphic verbal commentaries about an individual’s body, sexually degrading words, or suggestive or obscene letters or invitations; and / or
h. physical conduct that includes touching, assaulting, or impeding or blocking movements.
If a woman employee experiences sexual harassment at the workplace, she may report it immediately in writing to the presiding officer of the company’s internal complaints committee (constituted under the Act) within 3 (three) months from the date of last incident of harassment. The committee shall carry out the proceedings of conciliation and hold an inquiry in a manner prescribed herewith in this section.

CONSTITUTION OF INTERNAL COMPLAINTS COMMITTEE
The internal complaints committee of the company shall consist of the following members: presiding officer, who shall be a woman, employed at a senior level in the company, two or more than two members may be nominated from amongst employees who have a history of commitment towards social causes of women or have adequate legal knowledge, one member to be nominated from amongst a non-governmental organization or association committed to the cause of women or a person familiar with the issues relating to sexual harassment. As per the Sexual Harassment Act, a company must nominate at least ½ (one-half) of the above mentioned members as women. The presiding officer and every member of the committee shall not hold office for more than 3 (three) years from the date of their nomination and a minimum of 3 (three) members, including the presiding officer, shall be present while the inquiry is being conducted by the committee.

FALSE COMPLAINTS
If the committee finds that the allegations leveled by the complainant are malicious in nature or it is proved that the complainant has produced false, forged, or misleading documents during the inquiry it may recommend the management to take strict action against the complainant including but not limited to termination of employment and filing a civil suit thereof in an appropriate court of law. The Committee may recommend to the head of department, human resource, action which may include transfer or any of the other appropriate disciplinary action.

CONCLUSION
The essence of the said legislation is to provide a work environment that is free from all forms of discrimination and conduct that can be considered harassing, coercive or disruptive including sexual harassment. Actions, words, jokes or comments based on an individual’s sex, race, color, national origin, age, religion, disability or any other legally protected characteristic will not be tolerated. This policy defines sexual harassment at the company and creates a mechanism for redressal of complaints. This policy also provides safeguards against false or malicious charges.

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